“We have a big problem with domestic violence in this community,” Rivera said. “This shouldn’t be a place that tolerates workers who do those things. I think it was a bad hire to begin with, given his back problems. I think the city has enough problems. The mayor makes a lot of emotional decisions. I’m glad he corrected this one.”
Santiago worked as a Methuen cop, reaching the rank of sergeant, from 1983 to 1996, when he left on disability with a back injury. He attempted to return to the Methuen police department in 2004, but was blocked because he refused to pay for the retraining required of officers gone longer than five years. He had been unemployed when Lantigua hired him in November, when he had just lost an attempt at a comeback to the statehouse, winning just 15 percent of the vote against incumbent Marcos Devers.
Lantigua’s has not responded to several requests from The Eagle-Tribune for an interview about his decision to fire Sapienza and hire Santiago and did not respond again yesterday. But he has given interviews on the issue to several other news organizations, including one last week to WCVB.com, an online news site related to the TV station of the same name based in Boston. He told a reporter for the site that he tried to accommodate Sapienza by extending his health benefits and offering him a different shift.
“My conscious is clear,” Lantigua told the WCVB reporter on Jan. 4, the day after Sapienza, 41, lost his 40-year-old wife, Heather. “The reality is, we went out of our way to help him out. Do I wish his wife would still be alive and he be employed? Of course. But him not being employed today is something he brought on himself.”
In the meantime, the story has brought national media attention to Lawrence, including on a Yahoo.com news blog that posted the WCVB interview. The story on the Yahoo site had 7,400 comments yesterday evening.
“Whether he was fired or not, this man stood by his wife until she died,” wrote a poster with the screen name Justin F. “That will be worth more to him than any amount of money or any job.”